Monday, February 28, 2011


Ducky provided a great segue into the fact that I just got home from three days at the Portland Jazz Festival where I saw the amazing Joshua Redman in a killer quartet (Aaron Goldberg, Matt Penman and Eric Harland), the Three Cohens, the San Francisco Jazz Collective and some other impressive acts. Of course none of them sell as well as Hannah Montana so maybe they aren't that good? I don't really want to get into the whole high brow/ low brow pop culture thing but live jazz, at that level, is a treat and everyone should at least try it once. Same with classical; you need to be there to start to understand it. We get two hours every morning on public radio and some afternoon shows as well.

The theme of the festival centered on the bridges between the Jewish and the African-American communities in the world of jazz. I always think of Benny Goodman as a real pioneer but I'm sure collaborations went back farther than that. My personal collection is mostly be-bop but I also like the big bands and a little free jazz or Dixieland.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Which Side Are You On?

"How do we change our position on budget and fiscal issues so we're not always looking like an impediment? We need an ideology based around working WITH employers...that message and approach can attract different people than the 'we need to stand up for the working class' approach. That approach is about conflict and a lot of people don't want conflict."
Andy Stern former head of SEIU and Change To Win

This Wisconsin fight-back is a difficult issue to unpack. Of course I support any resistance to the status quo that is equalizing, that's a given. But I also feel a radical critique is necessary in every case so that we don't head down dead ends, waste time and energy, or otherwise allow an emancipatory vision to be co-opted. Andy Stern pretty well sums up the problems moving forward.He thought everyone could just get along and share and boy was he wrong.

The Right has been successful in promoting a vision of unity (as a universal social Good) that is oppositional and loyal. This is what Carl Schmidt identified as the friend-enemy position but it is essentially reactionary, with fascist undertones.( Schmidt was a successful Nazi theorist) There is no positive program as such,( unless you buy the Fantasia of "free markets" and individualism) only WE ARE UNITED AGAINST THEM. This is what appeals to Pagan, united AGAINST. Contrary to what Andy Stern says, they do want conflict, as long as it against The Other. Labor got in bed with Capital in a Grand Bargain (see past post) and abandoned it's own positive, oppositional position of deep struggle to change the actual forces of production.

Yes, Wisconsin is helping to define the true antagonistic positions. The workers have already surrendered to the capitalist logic that they must pay for the crisis. They are so far back on their heels they are fighting for something won decades ago. (the right to organize) Just as women are fighting for something won decades ago. But these gains were never consolidated and those fights were never joined to the broader struggle for radical democracy.

I stand by my proscription that the challenge for the Left is to give Capital enough rope to hang itself. Stand aside and offer no resistance. They should be calling the Rights bluff on every occasion and propose even deeper cuts to all sectors. They should call for an end to all unions, corporate ownership of all sectors, the end of all NGO's and civil society, absolute rule by the Tea Party and it's minions. In other words hand it all over to them and watch the Free Market reign for awhile (a short while). This is the only way to get rid of them, as a serious opposition, once and for all.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Davey Downer

I hope I'm not just turning into a total curmudgeon, but this exuberance over Madison Wisconsin seems a bit over the top. What it reminds me of is the rush so many on the labor left felt when workers took over the Chicago Doors and Windows factory last year. Progressive pundits, eager for some sign of resurgent militant activism, gushed over the solidarity of "the workers". Now I am hearing that the Madison state capital is the "new Tahir Square" but I'm sorry, I see too little too late. I hope I'm wrong. Hearing Obama praise the public sector unions I wanted to vomit. How stupid does he think we are? He hired Arnie Duncan, Vilsek. General Electric for fuck sake. What happened to the Employee Free Choice Act, Barak?

I caught a certain amount of flack on the home-front for advocating support for the most rabid right wingers in the last election cycle but I think we are seeing the fruits of that effort. In our local paper I read: "Republicans, buoyed by anti-government fervor and the mantra of job creation, seek unfettered natural resource extraction". They have introduced a number of bills which display their attitude towards the environment such as SB 233 which would "prohibit the consideration of regional, national or global impacts such as climate change.." or SJ 10 to "urge the US Congress to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses".

A freshman Representative named, appropriately, Priest, is leading the charge. A self-described "free market advocate" he believes in climate change but wants to see "the costs and benefits" to the proposed solutions. Because as we all know, INFORMATION is key to the operation of the "free market". Who wishes to try a cost-benefit analysis?

Democrats believe this ideology as well but their INFORMATION is different from the Republicans INFORMATION. They believe the costs will be borne by others but insist there is no dichotomy between the environment and the economy. They want a "green economy" in the state which is the largest coal producer in the U.S.and also depends on natural gas and oil. (both the extraction and use of.)

Back to the Priest of Pure Capitalism : Jason has also drafted a handful of bills "seeking to remove incentives for energy efficiency" ( distorts the free market) and the Property Fairness Act which would require the government to pay a landowner any time the state diminishes the value of property by any amount." Based on good INFORMATION, of course. He also says "clearly if you have to mandate an activity, there's some question as to whether people value it..otherwise they'd be doing it." The fundamentalist argument against stop signs.

Why am I overjoyed about all this?
1. Montana survives on subsidies and incentives but the system is unsustainable.
2. My progressive friends refuse to recognize free market fundamentalism drives local conservatives. Time to wake up.
3. My progressive friends have always insisted the government is the public's bulwark against market tyranny. NGO's have spent billions and wasted years with this approach.
3. My progressive friends insist the legislative-regulatory-system works. Yeah, right. Lobby forth, my friends.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Everywhere progressives are trying to figure out terminology to critique the current economic system without calling for it's wholesale replacement. In our group the other night we read one of Derek Jensen's pieces calling for the end of "predatory corporate capitalism". There is always lots of talk about "corporatism" and "oligarchies" and once again David Korten weighs in with an essay called Beyond Capitalism and Communism: A Main Street Alternative. He identifies something called "Wall Street capitalism" which "distorts market theory beyond recognition".

So on the one hand we see someone(very influential) who is concerned about social justice but wishes to defend some ephemeral, pure ( undistorted?) market theory. On the other hand he is calling this pure theory "Beyond Capitalism" in the hopes of dragging along those growing legions who are beginning to understand capitalism has failed. The problem is, by inventing these new (incoherent) forms and terminology, the famous liberal author only further obfuscates and muddles a debate that is already difficult enough for most folks.

His solution to the age old question of "what is to be done?" is to suggest " a strong and intrusive government hand to limit the abuse." Can he really believe this old FDR dream? Does the author of a dozen books not understand the ways in which the world has changed? Even at the level of pure theory, does he have some system for distinguishing the Good Small Business from the Bad Big Businesses? Does he envision a world of friendly farmers markets for oil and tin and plywood? Who does he think we should vote for to bring about this heroic government that will save us from Bigness?

Intelligent, caring, informed liberals are now having to make some hard choices. Look at Madison Wisconsin. Red pill - blue pill? Which side are you on? This is where our energies must be concentrated. Conservatives are still looking for WMDs, hating the Other, totally lost in the Spectacle, and will have to be dealt with later. And that won't be a discursive battle.

There is a great piece in the latest Harpers called Homeless in Sacramento, written by William Vollman. It really captures the gritty, desperate jungle just outside our doors. Also a good essay in the New Left Review 66 called Golden State Adrift about how bad things have devolved in my home state since the all out assault by libertarians and vicious Central Valley right wing.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Kept in the Dark

Pale and overwhelmed, my wife and I stumbled from the theatre after two full days and nights of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. This is not for sissies. I've seen a lot of good film making and some very stimulating subjects but for now I will just highlight a couple.

The very first film, called Into Eternity, left a real impression. It concerns the efforts of the Finns to bury their nuclear waste 500 meters deep in a bedrock cavern they are now blasting out. The cinematography is very Kubrick- SpaceOdyssey as is the ethical question at the heart: What marker do we leave behind for a civilization 10,000 years from now that comes across the tunnels? How do we say; do not explore as we did, the mess we left behind is incredibly dangerous?

As someone writing a novel partially about the Palestinian immigrant experience, I found Corner Store an interesting exploration of the hot topic of multi-culturalism. It also made me a little homesick for San Francisco!

The Sea is a Harsh Mistress is a good meditation on something that came up in the last thread, utopianism. It turns out Milton Freidman's grandson wants to build a sovereign nation in the middle of the ocean somewhere, a nation where a pure free market would create a pure freedom. Every libertarian-Communitarian of every stripe should watch it.

Then I watched To Catch a Dollar:Muhammad Yanus Banks on America, about the Grameen Bank's attempt to adapt it's program to conditions in the US of A. This is another well meaning utopian vision, using capitalism to lift it's victims out of poverty and dependence. The film follows the struggles of dedicated activists to transplant this movement, so fraught with contradictions,and does a good job complexifying the issue.

Of course the film Cultures of Resistance filled the theatre. Missoulians pride themselves on their concern for "social justice", but unfortunately it was a tourist-eyed view that left you just as confused about "What is to be done?" as when you walked in. Peace, Love, and Unity T shirts sold like hot cakes but the opening scene, where a group of indigenous from the Amazon attacked a Brazilian energy Minister with machetes at a meeting shook the audience a bit. ( he escaped in his limo with one deep cut and a new understanding)

The last film was Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird which I highly recommend, both for content and excellent film making. If you are only going to write one book, make it a doozy.

It is back again tonight for winners of the Doc Challenge (make a film in six days!) and a film about Harold Louis "Doc" Humes made by his daughter. We are lucky to have this excellent Festival here in the Mountain West.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Mubarak bails and I suspect the military started losing the rank and file. There were reports of gunfire breaking out in another city (on AlJazeera) just before Suleiman came on TV. The 32nd anniversary of the Iranian revolution has become something more, something different. We are now getting a history lesson from James Woolsey ( former CIA director) on CNN and again I have been fascinated by the different narratives of the different channels as I switch around. I see exactly where Pagan gets his simple views and arrogance and as Ducky continuously reminds us, the media shapes "politics" as such, is the best signifier of the Spectacle.

The nature of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is the new Death Panels and having been proved wrong time after time after time will not make conservatives question their sources or analysis.

Immediately after the announcement FOX commentators started worrying about Israel and the DOW. They stress all the "terrible problems" which lie ahead and never once mention the role of unions. All very, very interesting. Can't wait to see how Glen Beck turns this ecstatic moment into a downer for his paranoid viewers. Will he stand with the Saudi royalty?

Another worry is the US sending in it's "Democracy Promotion troops, NDI, NRI, USAID etc In the name of Development the Chicago Shock Troops will soon be on the scene.

The "Realists" get to expose their cynicism and fear in the midst of hope and jubilation. We will learn what "stability" means. Will Americans begin to set up their own Liberation Squares?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Here We Go


I am switching back and forth between FOX , CNN and al Jazeera and it is a fascinating window into narrative. Fox stresses the "worry of Israel" interviewing Judith Miller and former ambassador Dan Gellerman who focus on the "existential" threat. They love authority and "stability" saying "Thank God the army is in charge!"

CNN is just a confused jumble of fear and weird speculative uncertainty but the one thing neither channel mentions is the effect of the massive strikes of the last two days. Egyptian State TV went from saying the protesters are foreign agents eating Kentucky Fried Chicken to showing protesters hugging soldiers with patriotic music in the background.

The generals showed a meeting they were holding where Mubarak was noticeably absent and announced "they would continue meeting". No one on mainstream TV has said the word neoliberalism.

Post speech:

Sclerotic is the best word I can think of. Fareed Zacharia used "delusional". It seems to me Mubarak has taken the Israeli line, "stability" and "foreign agents" and obfuscating rhetoric. His first words really said it all when he addressed the people as "my children". Now he opens the door for increased violence and he will end up with his bank accounts froze, living in Saudi Arabia to avoid the Hague. His choice I guess. First as Tragedy, then as Farce.

A few minutes later: Now I'm actually listening to Glen Beck try to wrap his head around Egypt. It's not pretty. "Arch Duke Ferdinand moment" " beginning of the New World Order". As I mentioned, there is no way for him to fit this into his frame ( logically, coherently) but that doesn't keep him from trying.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Responsibility and Obligation

Going back to Obama's speech at the National Chamber of Commerce we see that his appeal is to their ethical sense. "Business has a responsibility to America" he claims in a sincere sounding plea that they free up some of that investment cash. But to what economic theory does he refer? Goinf back to the Grand Bargain I wrote about last week, that historical example teaches us exactly that Business has (and feels) no such "responsibility". He knows it, they know it. All Kubuki made for our consumption.

Can the same be said of AFL-CIO head Richard Trumpka? He sounds convinced when he tells those executives "You have an obligation" on Laura Flanders' show this morning. He says we need to get back to "net exports" (haven't seen that in twenty years!) and profits "would have to be shared". Really? Mimicking Obama he says "American companies haven't been thinking about this country." Kum bay ya, brother. For proof of how government can regulate capital he says "We just re-regulated the financial economy". He must be in on the Kubuki. After all, the AFL_CIO pushed hard for the Free Trade deal with Peru which has proved so disastrous.

Looks like some Egyptian pop star thought he could get away with switching horses in mid-stream and almost got his ass kicked. With strikes around the country the revolution is deepening, showing that my call for the protesters to accept concessions was premature. Tricky business this revolution stuff and it's far from over.Also far from clear how a transition to quick elections would work exactly.There is a good discussion at Leninology about the nature of self organization. As far as the stand-off, I'm sure Mubarak would gladly see the economy ruined to save face so it now rests on the Army and the bourgeoisie. The business class if forced to decide: violent crackdown or oust the President.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Smiley Face

In a discussion the other night it was noted that much disagreement centers on differing views of human nature, often the old Hobbes vs Rousseau debate. I just ran across this essay by James Quinney over at New Left Project:

"In essence, the Hobbesian position has proved popular not because of it's scientific rigour- which as we have examined is at the very least highly contested- but precisely because it rationalizes and perpetuates an inequality in social power that is integral to capitalist societies."

Quinney, an anthropologist,cites much research on cooperative indigenous societies and makes a good case. Meanwhile ,Chantel Mouffe, in her book Return of the Political, is willing to "acknowledge that the 'state of nature' in it's Hobbesian dimension can never be completely eradicated but only controlled..." She sees antagonism as a good thing, to be channeled into political struggle lest it devolve into ethnic, nationalist or religious conflict where ones adversary to contend with becomes ones enemy to destroy.

"Far from being the necessary result of a moral evolution of humankind, democracy is something uncertain and improbable..It is an always fragile conquest that needs to be defended as well as deepened. There is no threshold of democracy that once reached will guarantee its continued existence. Democracy is in peril not only when there is insufficient consensus and allegiance to the values it embodies, but also when it's agonistic dynamic is hindered by an APPARENT EXCESS of consensus..."

So when Obama goes to the Chamber of Commerce and says he wants everyone to just get along, labor, capital, government,all one big happy family, he is proposing just this very EXCESS of consensus. It is false and debilitating and continues hollowing out the last vestige of democracy. Obama knows full well the inherent antagonism and he knows exactly which side he is on.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Health Issue

This past weekend a symposium was held locally called Turning the Tide: Reclaiming Human Health by Restoring the Planet. With panels on such things as A Spiritual Response to a Planet in Crisis, Learning From Libby:Calamity in a Company town, Ecological Food Choices, Chemical Policy, Green and Clean at Home, etc.. it is a sort of uniquely Missoula expert/technologist/ spiritualist approach at understanding the ongoing, deepening crisis.

It closes with a discussion tomorrow night entitled: Montana to the Tar Sands: The True Cost of Oil, because we have found our local communities serendipitously caught in the middle of this serious energy issue. Our group has been vocally participating in community discussions lately, interjecting an uncomfortable ( for liberal Missoulians) anti-capitalist critique. This is what I will say tomorrow night.

"Many of you here are medical professionals trained to look holistically at symptoms of a sick patient and diagnose the underlying disease. So when we are discussing the health of a planet, it seems you would want to look beyond symptoms as well, the ecological damage, the hollowed out politics unable to arrange policy solutions, the "eco-despair" as you put it. And yet surprisingly, we hear no discussion on the most fundamental determinant of the destruction,the underlying political economy, or this thing we call liberal democratic capitalism.

Seen in this light, Libby was the victim of market forces, the profit system, in the same way as Bhopal. Butte or countless communities across the globe. Using this deeper, broader frame we can see that the Canadian Tar Sands are the result of profit driven energy development to which any so-called "policy" is held absolutely hostage. Using this holistic approach, the conclusion that all the issues you have been discussing - from cancer rates, to hormone disruption, to climate change to food choices- are related to the structures and institutions of capitalism is inescapable. And all attempts at mitigating these problems, these symptoms, without acknowledging the disease, is simply green washing. It seems to me very much like giving a patient with a brain cancer an aspirin for the headaches and leaving the tumor intact.

As you look to "Restoring the Planet", do you believe this can be accomplished within the framework of so-called democratic capitalism?"

Practically every night in this town there is a panel or a speaker or a gathering of and by mostly liberals putting forward the same, tired, failed ideas. They get access to all the platforms and pulpits. It is time for them to be challenged at every turn, consistently, relentlessly.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Left Behind

Finally a crisis that allows clear distinctions between the authoritarian Right and small d democrats. Cruising the Sphere of Ignorance ( Fox news, Gateway Pundit, right wing blogs, etc) we see, as in the torture debate, the clear love for Our Beloved Father The Authority. This is actually what Egypt's new Vice President Suleiman called Mubarak in an interview yesterday. On one side we see support for Israel and irrational fear of Muslim Brotherhood peeling conservatives away from their Tea Party pretensions and rhetoric about Liberty. Authority loving liberals like Obama-Clinton-Kerry also struggle to find a position where the hypocrisy doesn't just drip from their every word. Nicholas Kristoff, who was down on the square, will not join Joe Biden in subservient humiliation. Juan Cole over at Informed Consent has also drawn a forceful line. Meanwhile John Mc Cain warns against a "spreading virus". Father brings Stability.

I personally think the protesters may have to accept Obama's craven, cowardly proposal to let Suleiman take over. It still is an amazing victory sending signals world wide. Suleiman and the Administrations which knew of his activities will become the focus of intense scrutiny. And it will give the pro-democracy forces a chance to develop a positive political program moving forward. I do not envy whoever takes over because the problems are enormous but at least they can roll back the disastrous neoliberal "reforms" which have been imposed. The society is divided and counter-reform forces will plague any new leadership.The military is a big unknown.

Here is a sampling of comments from Gateway Pundit, linked to on Pagan's blog:

"I hope they slip some pork in their burgers"
"They will get enforcement of Sharia law."
"It's nothin personal, I'm sure there are some nice looking Nefertiti's" ( speaking to the attractiveness of the women on TV)
"The mean IQ in Egypt is 83."
"The essential philosophical architecture for supporting a democracy simply does not exist in primitive belief systems (Islam) of this type."( resident intellectual)
"Obama is setting off a wave of anti-semitic violance (sp) by supporting this Islamo-facist rebellion."

Goebbels would be proud. I'm sure Rupert Murdoch is.

Not that the left is always coherent. This is Ted Rall from Common Dreams: "Global revolution is immanent...set off by unpredictable events, as the result of spontaneous passion rather than organized mobilizations. There is no need to organize or plan. Scheming won't make any difference. Just get ready to RECOGNIZE REVOLUTION when it occurs. then drop what you are doing and THEN organize."

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Pride and Power

The old dictator couldn't leave without lashing out one last time and the protesters learned something about the military mindset: you can hand out flowers but they won't necessarily choose you when push comes to shove. Some pro-Mubarak types are nervous bourgeois, watching their dreams fade as when Chavez was elected. Others see him as a father figure, a strong authority bringing stability. Some are just thugs, class traitors who will do anything for a few bucks.

Part of the problem was articulated by one gal I saw interviewed, who when asked what she desired simply said "not Mubarak". Unfortunately this is not a platform. Commentators from the anarchist left and certain liberals ( afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood) have been giddy that the revolution is "leaderless" and organic but we see some of the problems that can arise in terms of negotiating and defence.This is part of the anxiety I was trying to express about the Act in the last post and that leap. Women and children were in that crowd and there is risk and responsibility to camping out in a square with a loose, loose coalition. (April 28ers, MB,

There is also the issue of moving forward when the new coalition does take power.The country is wracked with economic woes with no quick fixes ( unless we, the rest of the world,overthrow capitalism!) ( probably not going to happen). We know democracy is much more than just voting, look at Afghanistan, Haiti or the U.S. There will be lines for bread to deal with and a blood thirsty, reactionary, ruling class used to getting it's own way.

The good news is like Wikileaks, which played it's own part in this historical drama, the unfolding events are exposing the dark, slimy, underbelly of real-politic: the more people like Rupert Murdoch, Tony Blair, Netanyahu and AIPAC open their pie-holes, the deeper they get.
Not to mention U.S. policy supporting the old torturing tyrant. To his credit, CNN's Anderson Cooper was quick to call the thugs government plants. Lots of worry about Islamists but I think we should keep our eye on Christian and Jewish states breaking out.

Lichanos: "tip toe Death Mask" was purple prose for the deep socketed John Kerry. You really must read Freidman's column today in NYTimes BE- AE Before Egypt, After Egypt. Unbelievable.